Friday 30 September 2016

It is not teachers who sneak chocolate into kids' lunch boxes

In my opinion...

Michelle Mc Bride

Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30

Michelle McBride
Michelle McBride

Recent figures announced by our Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, revealed that 60pc of the population are overweight and over two thirds of us don't get enough exercise. Shocking figures indeed, no matter how you look at them.

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What was less shocking, however, was the response to these rotund figures. No sooner had the papers left the press than that familiar chorus was singing for its dinner on our national broadcaster. You know the words by now, you've heard this tune so often: 'That should be taught in schools' - and everyone loves to sing along.

Perhaps it's time to change the record?

If you examine the album sleeve of the primary school curriculum, you'll find "that" is actually taught in schools.

All schools have a healthy eating policy - which comes with a helpful reminder affixed permanently to the students' journals (lest they forget).

Parents are informed of what foods are allowed in lunch boxes and what are discouraged and why.

The teachers are not sneaking chocolate bars into the kids' lunch boxes in the morning or dishing out chicken fillet rolls and ham and cheese jambons when the lunch bell rings out.

Some schools even took on the unenviable job of getting children to eat their veg. A tough enough chore for a parent with 2.4 children to coax. Try 25 and a timetable.

The Food Dudes Programme, which was piloted in schools in 2006, was rolled out nationally in 2007. This initiative aimed to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables at home and school via repeated tasting and rewards. Figures from the Food Dudes Programme proved that schools were playing their part in promoting healthy eating, with 87pc of parents reporting that their children had asked them to buy more fruit and vegetables as a result of the programme.

But even if you strip back all the bells and whistles of the Food Dudes Programme and lunch policies and go a cappella you will find 'that' is still being taught in schools.

The Social and Personal Health Education programmes in all schools deal with the area of healthy eating right from their first year to their very last. If they don't get the message in Juniors, it's sure to hit home by Seniors.

When you take a closer look - (and not even too close)- you will see plenty of healthy lifestyle initiatives are already being taught and promoted within schools. In fact, most are long established. Schools are 'Walking in Wednesday', and flying Active Flags. Even the classic golden oldie of active initiatives - GAA training after schools - is still ongoing.

Along with the timetabled PE lesson, students are also taught to swim and ride a bike in most schools. You'll find teachers coming in before the bell to practice the high jump with their students before their Santry or City Sports, or jogging that 5k with them in a Saturday morning Parkrun.

That sports day that you remember so fondly - tripping over yourself in a potato sack or smuggling the largest spoon out of your kitchen to increase your chances in the 'egg and spoon' - that sports day is now a sports week, and you no longer have to bring your own spoon.

People should be wary of placing the weight of these newly announced figures at the doors of schools. Our curriculum is already buckling under the weight of current expectation.

Just like our diet, our curriculum should be balanced and it too needs its staples.

If we are to take on even more responsibility for what children eat then what actually should be taught in schools - numeracy and literacy - is in danger of becoming undernourished.

Michelle Mc Bride is a primary school teacher currently on a teacher exchange at St Anthony's Boys NS, Ballinlough, Co Cork.

Twitter: @MichelleBride

Irish Independent

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